Oakland on Tuesday became the latest city in California to ban components of easy-to-assemble, impossible-to-trace “ghost guns,” which have grown in popularity in recent years amid a wave of gun violence in the city.
The order, which passed without opposition, targets the rapid proliferation of firearms, which can be ordered online and delivered without a serial number or the buyer undergoing a background check.
Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan and council members Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo proposed the ordinance. Seeking its passage, Kalb and Gallo called it a key move to retaliate against a wave of gun violence across the city.
“We’re not claiming that a new law will end gun violence next month in Oakland or any other city,” Kalb said ahead of the vote. “But anything extra we can do that makes it a little more difficult I think is worth it.”
The proposal passed in a crowd vote along with several other items, and most council members did not comment on it. A second vote, expected on February 1, is needed for the ordinance to become law.
Other communities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Berkeley, have passed similar ordinances in the past year. One such order, passed in San Diego, sparked an ongoing federal lawsuit from a coalition of local gun owners.
The laws aim to reduce the growing number of ghost guns being used on the streets amid what supporters say are lax state and federal regulations.
“More needs to happen at the federal and state level, but that’s what we can do locally,” Kalb said, during Tuesday’s meeting.
Ghost guns are firearms that can be assembled at home – in as little as an hour – from parts that don’t arrive stamped with serial numbers, making them hard to find.
Current state law allows people to purchase these firearm components online and have them shipped to their homes. Before assembling these parts, buyers must first apply for a serial number from the California Department of Justice – a process that involves a background check. One or two thousand people, often described as gun enthusiasts, request such serial numbers each year, the department said.
But law enforcement says people don’t often look up these serial numbers, and the resulting ghost guns have become a popular way to circumvent state gun-buying regulations, often for illicit purposes.
In Oakland, 23% of the roughly 1,200 firearms seized by police last year were phantom guns, according to the Oakland Police Department.
Last year, San Francisco police seized 194 such weapons as of Dec. 7, or 20 percent of all weapons seized by the department. That number has grown rapidly in recent years — just six such guns were seized by San Francisco police in 2016, and none of those guns were recovered in 2015.
In Los Angeles, 24% of the 8,121 guns seized by police last year were ghost guns. Los Angeles police also arrested 586 people in 2021 who were banned from owning a firearm but were caught carrying ghost weapons, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian said.
“So that’s 586 people who would never have had access to a regular firearm because they would have been prohibited from buying one if they had done a background check,” Krekorian said. “So a huge, huge challenge for law enforcement… (and a driver) of violence, gun violence, that LA has endured.”
A new state law taking effect July 1 requires these gun parts to go through retailers, which means gun components can no longer be sent directly to a buyer’s home. . It also requires that most sellers of firearm components be state-licensed. And it requires buyers to pass a type of state background check similar to what goes on when people buy ammunition.
Still, council members in Los Angeles and San Diego said they needed to act faster and pass tougher regulations than those found at the state level. New state law still does not require firearm components to be serialized before a buyer takes them home, according to an analysis presented to the Oakland City Council.
“The key is that we don’t just want to wait,” Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz said. “We want to do it now and not give another six months for the problem to get worse.”
Oakland’s new law follows the lead of most other California cities in adopting such laws by prohibiting people from owning, buying, selling, offering for sale, transferring, transporting, to receive or manufacture unfinished firearm frames or receivers – two major components of firearms – that do not have a serial number.
Oakland’s law goes even further, however, allowing civil penalties of $1,000 to $5,000, in addition to criminal penalties of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
“We’re trying to make an impact on the violence that we had in the last year,” Gallo, who represents District 5, said before Tuesday’s meeting. “We want to make it very clear that here in Oakland, we do not condone – and will penalize you for – phantom gun sales and the like.”
Krekorian said Los Angeles leaders may also enact similar civil penalties in the near future.
“For the past few years, phantom guns have just been an epidemic problem here in LA and across the country,” Krekorian said.